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DUBAI: Approvals wait threatens Kuwait Super Hornet deal

Boeing officials say there is some anxiety and frustration over how long it is taking the US government to approve a potential fighter deal with Kuwait.

The Gulf nation is seeking 28 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets with options for 12 more, but a sluggish approvals process in Washington, that has more recently been complicated by the Iran nuclear deal, has company executives worried Kuwait could back out and instead complete a purchase of a European alternative: the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Speaking at the Dubai air show, Boeing sales and business development executives Tom Bell and Jeff Kohler, who would not name Kuwait specifically, said the company's prospective “Middle East customer” is frustrated with the approvals process. Kuwait reportedly selected the Super Hornet earlier this year, before signing an agreement with the Italian government for 28 Typhoons.

“We’re just worried that the delay could cause them to turn to another provider outside the United States,” says Kohler. “Once they do that, once they sign a contract with Eurofighter, then you lose them for 30 or 40 years. There is a little bit of anxiety.”

Kuwait operates 27 F-18C Hornets that it acquired in the 1990s after the first Gulf War, and would have little trouble introducing the newer Super Hornet. Boeing needs to close the deal to shore up production in St Louis, Missouri, which faces closure without more orders.

The US Navy is continuing to purchase the type, but Boeing needs an order of 12 aircraft from the service in 2016 and from the Middle Eastern customer to keep the line economically viable. It says the approvals process is likely to drag into early 2016, and that a dozen-aircraft order from the USN is more certain – although still subject to budget approval by Congress.

Bell and Kohler say the issue is complicated by politics and high-level diplomacy over the Iran nuclear agreement, but mainly because the US government’s Foreign Military Sales process is slow and not built to handle the volume of transactions requiring approval by the state department.

The approvals office is built to handle $15 billion in sales comfortably, but increased demand has seen an average of between $30 billion and $35 billion over the past five years and the government has not adapted, they add. “The acquisition system just takes too much time,” says Kohler.

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